When Kara was three she asked her dad what her mark meant.
"I don't know, sweetie," he said. "Why don't you ask aunt Astra? She can take you to the archives and you can look it up there."
But the archives were boring, and Kara would much rather ask aunt Astra to take her to get twellian sugar paste instead.
The marks hadn't had much cultural significance at all on Krypton for millennia. This wasn't unusual; for most space faring civilizations, the pool of potential soulmates was so unimaginably wide that the odds of ever running into them were rather marginal. Some people whose marks were written in a particularly localized language would travel to its planet of origin, but most preferred not to upturn their lives for an uncertain chance at something that might not be worth much in the first place. The separation rates weren't significantly lower than those of other unions, anyway.
Most adults paid no more mind to their marks than to any mole or scar. They were an occasional source of great childhood fascination, though.
When Kara was five her friend Tal-Or from animal studies showed her the thin, loopy script on his arm, so different from Kara's mark.
"My mom says it says 'I like your ship' in Grikkan," he explained. "Means I'm gonna have my own ship."
Kara gasped. That was the coolest thing she'd ever heard. "Cool!"
"What's yours say?"
"'Bloopidy bleep bloop,'" Kara cleverly improvised on the spot. "My soulmate's a robot."
Kara nodded earnestly. She'd made this up, and now it was real. "Big robot that can fly and shoot lasers from its eyes. Not like a library robot, like a… fighting robot."
"But robots don't have soulmates," Tal-Or said uncertainly.
"Mine does." She thrust her arm at him, waving it in his face. "See? Says right here. Bloopidy, bleep, bloop."
Tal-Or examined the strange, blocky print carefully. "Okay," he said, satisfied the translation was up to par. "I want a robot soulmate too."
"Trade me your ship for it!"
Tal-Or ended up surrendering his ship, his captaincy and his pocketful of glowy polymer scraps for Kara's fake robot soulmate. He maybe hadn't been the most seasoned negotiator, back then.
Wouldn't really get the chance to become one, either.
Earth, as Kara would come to discover, is a little different. On Earth, the marks are a cultural lynchpin. They have books and movies and laws and customs revolving entirely around them. For a while you were supposed to hide them, then you were supposed not to care if anyone saw them. Sometimes you should comment on them, sometimes you really, definitely, absolutely shouldn't. They were old-fashioned or romantic or oppressive, but they were always meaningful. It was one more set of confusing, clandestine rules Kara had to get used to once she'd arrived.
There were a lot of Earth things that took getting used to. The gravity, the noise, the figures of speech. But this, as well as the food, ended up being frighteningly easy to embrace.
It wasn't an accident, that her parents had sent her to this planet where people speak the language on her wrist. It couldn't be. It had to mean something. In all of this, the loss and the finality and the sheer terrible lack, there has to be some meaning.
When Kara was eight she went to the tertiary Argo city archives on a research assignment, and as she kept accidentally bringing up untranslated alien texts, something occurred to her.
"Oh, yeah, that looks like some kinda Earthish," said Noora, Kara's uncle's friend's second cousin who'd once taught her how to spit further than anyone and now studied something boring about words and worked in the archive.
Earthish? Kara wrinkled her nose. Earthians didn't even have intergalactic travel. They weren't in any coalitions. They were pretty useless. "What's it mean?"
"Hm," Noora said, taking a quick scan of Kara's arm and turning to her console. "Hold on."
Kara plopped in one of the comfy but too tall chairs and kicked her legs while she waited. So she had an Earthian soulmate or whatever. At least they didn't look too weird. She heard somewhere that some people think Kryptonians were descended from them, though that sounded silly, Earth is so far away. And on second thought, having a really weird looking soulmate would be kinda cool, actually.
"All right, here we go," Noora said finally. "Let's see… Says, 'Hey!' like an exclamation… Oh." She hesitated, quirked her lips. "It says, uh, 'Hey, buzz off'."
"What!" Kara exclaimed, outraged. Not only was her soulmate really primitive and far away and regular looking, he was also really rude. "My soulmate sucks. I don't like him. I don't want him."
"Kara, honey, that's okay. You never have to be with someone you don't want to. You know that, don't you? You are the master—"
"The master of my destiny, and my body is my own," Kara recited tiredly. "Yeah, I know."
Noora snorted. "Okay, that's good."
"Just sucks," Kara mumbled, kicking her legs some more. "I hoped he would be, I don’t know. Nice."
"There are many nice people in the universe," Noora told her. "You'll find them, if you wanted to. And you'll just have this really cool Earthish tattoo on your arm."
"A really rude Earthish tattoo," Kara said sullenly.
Noora laughed. "Okay. I'm a busy woman. Bye, Kara. Go sulk somewhere else."
Kara did go sulk somewhere else. Sulked, and did her homework, and vowed to track down her soulmate, confront him, and tell him straight to his face exactly what she thought of him.
"I'm so happy I've found you," Kara says straight to Lena Luthor's compelling, expressive, injured face. "Sorry. Um. That looks painful." Kara points at her own eye. Lena Luthor blinks silently at her. "I'm so sorry I startled you, earlier. I was just really, um, really excited. It must have been scary, after that happened to you."
Lena Luthor swallows visibly, stares at Kara, and shakes her head. "It's fine," she croaks, looking and sounding the least fine that a person can be.
"Uh—I don't think it is? You look like you're gonna pass out." Kara reaches out hesitantly. "Can I touch you? Maybe you can lean on me."
"No," Lena croaks some more. "I don't think so."
"Okay, well," Kara says helplessly, "can I buy you coffee? No, we were just in a coffee shop, you've probably already had coffee. Ice cream? Do you like ice cream? Tell me what you like, I'll buy you some. Unless it's really expensive, like caviar, I guess." Kara laughs nervously. She really wishes Lena Luthor would give her anything to go on, would do anything at all except sway slightly in place, looking worryingly queasy. "I'd, um, I'd really like to get to know you."
"Okay," Lena Luthor practically whispers.
"Okay?" Kara repeats, pleased and just a little taken aback. She's generally not the best at interpreting social cues, and Lena Luthor's seem to be even less intuitive than usual. "Do you like Tex-Mex?"
"So…" Kara says, glancing at Lena over her oversized fajita wrap, shooting her a hopeful smile. "I guess we're soulmates."
Lena Luthor stares at her, her one uninjured eye widening briefly, and bursts into tears.
Kara drops her fajita to the ground in her haste to make herself available for physical reassurance.
"Hey, hey, it's gonna be okay," she soothes, trying very hard to mask her distress. She hates seeing people cry. "You don't have to do anything you don't want to. You're, um, you're the general of your future. You know? I'm sorry I came on so strong. It's okay if you don't wanna, uh, pursue anything. The marks don't mean anything unless we want them to."
"I thought—it seemed like—never maybe—" Lena Luthor sobs haltingly, words muffled by the hands she's pressed to her face; Kara strains desperately to scrape together her meaning. "But you—and—and—a reporter, you know—And I told you to go fu-fu-fuck—"
"Oh, no, that's okay!" Kara rushes to reassure her. "Don't worry about it. I'm glad you did."
Lena Luthor lowers her hands to glare at her suspiciously. "What? Wh-why?"
"I used to think you'd be a very rude man," Kara tells her. "But you're not, huh? You're Lena Luthor. Right?"
Lena starts, hands curling into fists. She certainly seems to have some interesting reactions to hearing her own name. She glances at Kara, then away, gives a jerky nod.
"Right. You funded the LFNC Children's Hospital? You produce that alternative epinephrine autoinjector, selling at a 4.5% profit margin?"
Lena nods again.
"So you're probably not a horrible person, are you?"
Lena sniffles noisily, wipes roughly at her uninjured eye. "I, I don't know."
"Well, we can figure it out later," Kara offers generously. "I'm an alien, by the way. What do you think about aliens?"
Lena's face rapidly turns bright red. She blinks at Kara, frowning fiercely. Kara spends a moment trying to figure out whether she's embarrassed or pissed or surprised; then Lena actually hisses. So that solves that conundrum. "Is this the sort of thing you ask people when you're trying to calm them down!"
"I mean, it's good to get this stuff out of the way—"
"What kind of reporter are you! Aren't you supposed to open with softballs?"
"I hate these sports metaphors," Kara mumbles, feeling suddenly on the defensive.
"You don't do that on a date either!" Lena continues fervently. At least she's no longer crying. "'Where are you from! What do you do! Do you have any hobbies!'"
"I did sort of ask about your favorite food," Kara interjects timidly.
"Not, 'Hey, are you Lena Luthor? Are you a horrible person? Do you hate aliens? Are you a mass murderer like your brother?'"
"Oh. Okay." Kara already knows where Lena Luthor is from and what she does, of course. "Um… do you have any hobbies?"
All at once, Lena seems to deflate. Her posture droops, and she goes back to touching her face. "I like engineering," she says quietly. "I oppose the deportation efforts. I haven't participated publically, though perhaps I should. I am trying to undo as much of the damage my family's caused as I can. I know it doesn't always go very well, of course." Kara tries not to stare at her black eye too obtrusively. "I'm sorry I yelled."
She peers at Kara, looking actually maybe kind of hopeful. Kara gives her a tentative smile, slowly holds out her hand in offer.
Lena Luthor takes it.
Her hand is rather cold. Kara easily manipulates it so their fingers thread together and squeezes steadily. Lena releases a quiet sigh. They sit silently for a little while, Lena's hand slowly warming in Kara's.
Kara points at Lena's burrito with their tightly linked hands. "So, uh… are you gonna finish that?"
"Ha!" Lena exclaims sharply. She hunches slightly forward, hands Kara her untouched burrito and curls her free hand over a scarily attractive, toothy grin.
She laughed. That was a laugh. Kara has made her soulmate laugh.
Way cooler than a big flying robot, Kara thinks as she stuffs half of Lena Luthor's burrito in her mouth.
"Do you, maybe—" Lena says. "Would you like to go back to my place?"
Kara struggles to swallow her unconscionably large bite; it takes too long, so she just nods vigorously instead. Lena gifts her with another one of those heady smiles.
Lena Luthor's home is nothing like Kara had imagined. Well, it is big and fancy and very well secured, so maybe it's something like she'd imagined. But it's also sparsely decorated, starkly lit, and impressively cluttered; no horizontal space is free of some combination of binders, loose papers, tools and various tech. This place feels more like a warehouse or a movie scientist's workspace than a home.
"That was the worst first date I've ever been on," Lena says with a raw laugh as she leads Kara inside by the hand and kicks several unidentified items out of the way. "And I've had some really shitty ones, too."
"Oh. I'm sorry."
"Why? Did you tell me to go fuck myself, freeze up, start crying and raising your voice for no reason?"
"It wasn't for no reason," Kara protests, feeling defensive on Lena's behalf.
Lena raises her eyebrow at her. "Thanks for sticking around," is all she says.
Lena lets go of Kara's hand and walks into her kitchen. Kara takes the opportunity to look over some of the papers on the island separating the kitchen from the living room. They're graph papers, filled with preliminary designs. Kara can't tell at a glance what their function is, but there's something almost soothing in their intricate, clean lines, the tiny, scattered notes filling up empty spaces.
Lena returns with a half eaten chocolate bar, glancing at the papers over Kara's shoulder. "Impressed?" she teases, chocolaty breath blowing over Kara.
"Actually, yeah," Kara admits easily. "You're impressive." She points at the now empty candy wrapper, the last bite disappearing between Lena's lips. "You didn't bring one for me?"
Lena shrugs. "You ate my entire burrito."
She walks closer, framing Kara between her body and the kitchen island. Touches Kara's hip, a brief caress. Kara turns to face her fully. Lena Luthor, the infamous heir to a bloody fortune who'd bought a bakery for the stranger who punched her in the face. Jittery and messy and smelling like chocolate, touching Kara's hip and making comments one menu item removed from Earth innuendo.
"You are incredibly handsome," Lena Luthor says. "Haven't had a chance to tell you that."
Kara feels her face heat up. Her gaze is drawn to Lena's eye. It looks even more blatant and unwelcome up close.
Her hand lifts unconsciously, instinctively wanting to comfort by touch, only realizing when Lena shifts subtly. Kara hesitates. "Can I…?"
Lena smiles sardonically at her. "I don't know, are you a medical doctor?"
"Well—well, I wouldn't look at it, like, medically. More like, romantically?"
Lena's smile shifts and then fades. She looks intently in Kara's eyes, unwavering. Then she nods.
Kara breathes in slowly and steps closer. She was already close; the angle of her elbow is less comfortable now, but she wanted the proximity. She touches Lena's jaw; Lena lifts her hand to brush over the inside of Kara's palm. Kara swallows, holds her breath, ghosts her fingers over the bruise under Lena's makeup, the broken blood vessels beneath the skin. Careful, light, purposeful.
"You really are an alien," Lena murmurs, and tilts her chin forward, and her lips slightly part, and Kara kisses her.
Lena makes a sound, soft but fierce, slides two fingers into the space between the buttons of Kara's shirt, brushing over the periphery of her sports bra. Kara grabs at her blindly, over her lower back, her ass, fingers digging into soft flesh, and there's that sound again, and Lena gives her shirt a tug, and a button pops free—
Kara walks her back to the sofa; Lena brushes several newspapers and a pair of earmuffs of all things out of the way while Kara climbs on top of her. Lena makes a face, wiggles around, pulls a small condom-covered vibrator out from under her back and tosses it to the floor.
"What—what—" Kara stammers.
"Shh." Lena places a cool finger over Kara's heated lips. "I'm a slob. Kiss me."
Kara kisses the finger, instead, parting her lips around it so she can suck lightly on the tip. Lena hisses, lifts her hips into Kara. Kara sucks the finger deeper in her mouth, licks messily at the sensitive web between fingers. Lena bucks again, tugging Kara's body to her by her belt.
Kara releases Lena's index finger, moves on to mouth at the inside of her middle finger, sloppy and wet and eager.
"Fuck," Lena mutters. She shifts her hand, sticky from Kara's mouth, presses it to her cheek. "Okay, I get it, I get it. You're terribly sexy. Come here."
Kara bends her arms, lowering herself to brush her mouth over Lena's. Her eyes close, breath coming shallow and rough through her nose. Lena runs her tongue at the seam of Kara's mouth, and Kara's lips open for her, welcoming every new sensation. More of her weight rests on Lena now, warm pressure pushing back against her stomach, her thighs, her breasts—she can feel the raised embroidered pattern of Lena's bra—
"I have to ask you something," Lena says, letting go of their kiss. She gazes up at Kara, tucking her fingers beneath the waist of Kara's pants, making her clench. "I know it's a bit ridiculous, after I invited you over, and kissed you, and let you touch my eye, romantically, and you've actually already told me, but you'd just caught me at a stressful time and I was somewhat distracted—"
"What is it?" Kara interrupts her, slightly out of breath, ready to offer up anything, if she wanted it.
Lena chews the inside of her lip, glances away and then back, blinks earnestly. "What, uh—what's your name, again?"
Kara had spent a portion of her childhood in righteous indignation over how rude her soulmate appeared to be. Then she'd feared she would end up being the rude one. Then it became obvious the whole thing had more to do with defensiveness and hurt than anything. Now, seems her initial assumption maybe had some merit, after all.
She wouldn’t trade her weird rude soulmate for the world, though.
("Kara Zor-El Danvers," Kara says breathlessly, fighting to contain her laughter. "Z-O-R hyphen E-L."
"Kara Zor-El Danvers," Lena repeats under her breath, an absurdly determined look on her face, her fingers still just inside Kara's pants. "Kara Zor-El Danvers…"
"Hey," Kara says, drawing out the syllable, and Lena's eyes snap to her, immediately suspicious. "Are you, by any chance, Lena Luth—"
Lena Luthor shuts her up with a kiss.)